Interview of Yevgeny Velikhov at Kurchatov Institute, Moscow Oct. 14, 1997
Interviewer: Metta Spencer
During the Putin years Velikhov headed the new institution, the Public Chamber, which many civil society activists regarded as a mechanism for the state to undermine their independence.
MS: My impression is that there was a group of people around Gorbachev who were “brokers of ideas” from East to West and vice versa. You and Arbatov were especially important and also Shakhnazarov, though he was a little different. Then there were others whose influence was not so great; Petrovsky, Sagdeev, Kortunov and Karaganov, Lev Mendelevich, Kokoshin, and earlier, Victor Girshfeld.
Velikhov: I had no experience working with them.
MS: they didn’t have direct contact with Gorbachev, did they?
Velikhov: I have no idea. The most influential was of course the officials: Ustinov — but the driving force was Akhromeev.
MS: That’s the official side. But what you did was remarkable because you brought ideas in.
Velikhov: From my experience the man who started it was Nikolai Inosentsev.
MS: The man at IMEMO?
YV: Yes. He was a very interesting man and he invited me to CSAC in the beginning of the 80.s It is the strategic — the committee between the National Academy of Science and the Russian Academy of Science. And he invited me to join this CSAC and all my experience with the US started with this CSAC experience from one side. And I became chairman of CSAC and we meet twice per year, the most important time was in ’83 I think.
MS: Who were some of the other people in that”
YV: Generally in that time I think active was Kokoshin, Sagdeev, General (I forget his name) and Zhurkin and sometimes we asked other people. The westerners was mostly Paul Doty and Dick Garwin and Mel Goldberg (Goldberger?) He was I think president of California University. I don’t remember where he was at this time because we met in Washington. He was chairman of the board. One man was chairman of Arms Control Association. My problem is names, there are so many. At this time the president of the American Academy was quite active. It was Frank Press. And before his ten year term at the National Council he was scientific advisor to Carter in the Carter administration. As you remember the Carter time was quite tense. And this was one channel.
Another channel for me was connected with the Federation of American Scientists and Jeremy Stone.
The third channel started in the Brezhnev time, 1979 or 1980 I was invited to a meeting of the pontifical academy of Science. At that moment the Vatican was extremely active in this problem of peace. This was the time when the special encyclical on nuclear war, especially under the influence of this medical group, IPPNW. The people who were very active in the Pontifical Academy mostly was Vicky Weiskopf. He made the most impression on me. In parallel there was Father Hesburgh, who organized the meeting between the religious groups and scientists. We met sometimes, again wtih Vicky Weiskopf. The meeting in 1981 was a meeting of one of the Italian academy. The fiftieth anniversary, and they invited us to a special meeting with the Pontific Academy. It was a meeting with I think 36 academies from all around the world. Frank Press and Vicky Weiskopf, Hesburgh, many other people, and we discussed all the principal problems of nuclear war. It was the nuclear weapons, this problem of defence against them. And all the statements of this meeting was that there was only one solution: the elimination of nuclear weapons.
It is one thing to have internal conviction on this but another thing to have scientific evidence. And the life experience of this Vicky Weiskopf and all the other scientists was extremely important for me. Robert McNamara was involved. Dramatic events like the Caribbean crisis and so on. After this I met Ellsberg and discussed with him all these ideas and in ’82 I think I met in Amsterdam Frank von Hippel. That started our cooperation, which continues up to now. Sometimes we cooperate not only in this field but also in the efficient use of energy. Mostly in this program of nuclear non-proliferation. We started first in the Pontific Academy, our meeting was in ’83, in Washington CSAC meeting in March, just one week before this Star Wars speech by President Reagan. We discussed what was the most promising area to start to work. One vision is the ban on space weapons. We worked especially with Garwin. There were letters from Garwin to Andropov, who was sec gen at this time, to outline our ideas how to make the best treaty to ban weapons in space.
MS: That succeeded.
YV: In some ways it succeeded, but not in a direct way because—-I’ll come back to that. First was space weapons. Second was the comprehensive test ban — where we succeeded too. Third was stopping the production of fissile material and the elimination of fissile material, especially plutonium, and the demolishing of warheads, how to make that. (And in some ways we succeeded there too! Heh heh) But each of these has some story behind it. And if we start with the space weapons, after my return I spoke with Akhromeev and we succeeded in putting on the moratorium, which was declared in August 1983 by Andropov on any test of anti-satellite weapons. You know, the Soviet Union at this time had anti-satellite weapons and we succeeded to stop all testing and to make a moratorium on all weapons in space. There was no parallel declaration from americans, for good reason because it was the beginning of Star Wars, but the Democratic congress put the real ban.
YV: Money. Any funds for space weapons. And I think we keep this up to now. I hope. But I think it was a very important success story, yes”
The second problem was the question of comprehensive test ban. And in 83 – 84 the main obtacle looked like it was verification. The problem was invented by Edward Teller was the problem of coupling. I started to look at the possibility of using the international seismic network. First I discussed it and made a presentation in the Niels Bohr seminar in Copenhagen. After this I think in the beginning of 86, Frank von Hippel brought here a group of Parliamentarians for Global Action. They met with me and Shevardnadze and we discussed the possibility to start this.
MS: You were much more enthusiastic than Shevardnadze.
YV: Yes. After this it was a success story because Tom Cochrane was the real action. Seismic stations in Kazakhstan. I started to work. Beforehand I already had a discussion with Gorbachev and Akhromeev, and I had the permission.
MS: You had that before you met with the PGA group?
YV: Not permission. Permission was after, but before I had discussion with Gorbachev and I had this agreement when I went to the seminar in Copenhagen. And after I arrived we started to work with the academy and National Resource Defence Council. And we signed this agreement in May, I think, we had a seminar. Final agreement. And then in July they arrived with the seismograph. It was a very dramatic development at this time because there was no symmetry. I tried to explain it to people, that we’re not working for the benefit of this nation. We are working against them, and so in such case why are you looking for symmetry” But people said, no, we need symmetry from the American side. They looked that the United States and see unity, yes”
MS: Shevardnadze took that position, did he not?
YV:Not Shevardnadze, but Dobrynin looked on it in this way and Zhaikov (sp??) who was the head of industrial defense complex in the central committee at this time. And in this time I was very busy with Chernbyl, this was the problem, but there was a meeting of the politburo. Gorbachev was chairing this meeting. The first part was connected with Chernobyl. It was a very tense meeting, and after this discussion — and from my point of view there was already agreement with Dobrynin. He was already not ambassador but secretary of Central Committee. He promised me to support this idea of American seismology in Kazakhstan. But in the meeting they said, no, no, no, we need more discussion, more study. I was in a strange position because american scientists with scientific equipment were already in Kazakhstan. And after all this discussion and everybody had left I asked Gorbachev what to do and he said, okay, you follow the discussion. He did not make the final decision but he gave me more or less freedom. And I followed my understanding because I was influenced by general, we have agreement with government. Of course, the department of defence was against it. they say 300 km was too close to the nuclear site and it is high treason, but in this moment we discuss the American CORRTEX, which of course was nonsense. It is impossible for Russia to agree, but Russian generals one moment fall in love with the Americans and they make this agreement to test CORRTEX. In my understanding, and today I am sure it was a waste of time and money. Mllions of dollars they spent. Much more than we spent on seismic verification and the result is zero, completely useless. Fifty kiloton __________ from beginning; it has nothing to do with verification, and it is just nonsense. But they like this because they travelled and it was military cooperation. Maybe it built some trust but from a technical point of view it was nonsense. But after two years it was results in Kazakhstan but still we had no permission to go to Nevada. At this moment Charles Week visited us. He was in the Reagan administration, was in charge of the US information agency, Voice of America. Propaganda. It was not a very friendly meeting here in Moscow. I received him in the academy, and in our discussion I gave him this example. I said, we have permission for the American side working in Kazakhstan, but no permission for the Russians. He said, “It’s impossible. What is the reason for it?” I said, your state department says it is too important to give this incentive to private scientists. I am very [surprised] because President Reagan supports private incentive. He said, “Write him a letter.” I wrote a letter to Reagan and gave it to him the next day. He took it to the President and after this we received permission to go to Nevada.
MS: You didn’t really need it for practical purposes anyway because you already had the seismic data, didn’t you? I thought it was needed only for political reasons.
YV: NO, there was a real need. You ask Berger and these people from the American side. First, the Americans said, we have all data in Nevada. But it was never. Second, ______ measure the real local attenuation. The core soil in Nevada and Semipalatinsk are completely different. In Semipalatinsk it is hard rock. In Nevada it is like in the children’s sandbox. In Nevada the attenuation of signal is two times bigger and we made an experiment. We produced a chemical explosion and we measured the signal from it in Semipalatinsk and Nevada and all the results confirm this difference. This difference explains the American claim that the Russians is making bigger explosions than under the partial test ban treaty. The American measure the signals from Russia and they say it exceeds the limit of 150 kilotons, which was the limit then. But it was not because we exceeded it but because the propagation was much better in Kazakhstan than in Nevada. They think it was very good scientific data. We published it, it is completely open, and I think it made a big influence on the decision by congress to impose the moratorium and after this the CTB. And of course today the best way of verification is seismic. Only one problem is again that the military tries to control this seismic verification and this is completely unnecessary spending of money to build this huge system. Because the system belongs to the scientific world. And it is 100% sure to use this system for verification. And this is the story of the CTB.
The third story is connected with this warheads problem, yes? The problem of identification of warheads. And we organized this experiment in the Black Sea. We invite American scientists to take a fingerprint of our warhead. It was gamma but we used the cryogenic germanium spectrometer I think from Bukharin laboratory(?) and they measure all the spectrum and calculate the isotopes composition of the warhead, and this gives a very specific fingerprint of this warhead. We demonstrated the possibility to make some remote (not very far, but remote) by the helicopter, using the neutrons and in such case it was some realistic understanding of the possibility of verification of existing warheads on board. The American navy was completely against this. There was mainly speculation, some of it in the Sagdeev book, because there were some people here who made mistakes but generally we demontrated real capability and it was published. And of course, it is no problem to make a shield around the warhead but if you have a real warship there was a launching system that was already installed. In such case we measure this in the real launching sytem. You could rebuild it on the ship but it would cost billions of dollars. So our verification was quite real.
And after this, at this the American side raised this question of Krasnoyarsk. I received permission from Gorbachev to demonstrate the Krasnoyarsk facilities. And we arrived with a group of congresspeople — Downey, Tony Batista who was a staff member for defence in Congress, together with Frank von Hippel and Tom Cochrane and they visited the Krasnoyarsk facility first, an they made pictures, and reached an important conclusion: that the Krasnoyarsk facility has no capacity as an energy source, so it had no capacity outside the early warning. Of course it was formally in contradiction with the treaty because we put these things inside, but no contradiction by substance. And it was in a special report. Unfortunately, Shevardnadze did not use this report. I like Shevardnadze in some ways, but they were very self-confident and they made this stupid decision to say yes, this is for space. Yes okay, but we wish to convert this for scientific purposes. All this was nonsense. I think the best way was to say yes, this is a warning system and they have no capacity to use it as a battlefield. In such case there is no contradiction and …… And what happened was that we destroyed the system. It’s not very critical but it’s not very good.
And after this we demonstrated the Sary Shagan facility, which was claimed to be the base for Russian antisatellite ballistic defence. And we demonstrated our capacity in laser beams, which was minimal.
MS: They called it toys!
YV: Yes, they published it in some department of defence book. I have a collection of those books. But this was another story and all of them are mostly connected with this meeting in 83 of CSAC and some continuation of this policy. Together with Federation of American Scientists.
MS: This is CSAC is not the same as the Committee of Soviet Scientists For Peace and Against Nuclear… You founded that, didn’t you?
YV: I founded it to work with the Federation of American Scientists and Union of Concerned Scientists, because they did not wish to work with the official Soviet Academy. The official Soviet Academy had an agreement with the National Academy of Science. … It is only one activity which so widely in this peak of the cold war (???) It is not so important now as then.
MS: you had such a big influence with Gorbachev, can you tell me something about the transition? When the SU was over and Gorbachev was out, what did that do to you and the civilian military analysts at the institutes and so on?
YV: Of course my main worry at this time was, I think the Unite States and Gorbachev made a mistake, especially at Reykjavik, and I think it was possible to move much faster after Reykjavik. In some way we have an agreement. I discussed this with him and he was in the beginning in favor to not make a linkage between the agreement on middle-range nuclear missiles in Europe and SDI. But after they made this linkage we spent without any results have a year and this was critical because we had not finished the agreement on middle range missiles and the START agreement in the time of Reagan, which was possible if we had been faster after Reykjavik. Of course in Reykjavik there was another possibility — just to forget SDI and make agreement on the real ballistic missiles.
MS: Did you promote that idea yourself — and say just to ignore SDI.
YV: No. I’ll explain why not. You see, there was some joint understanding — this is another story. After the beginning of Star Wars I was quite prepared for this outcome because such proposals as anti-ballistic space, anti-ballistic missiles defence, had been proposed Academic Chelomey (??) a long time before Reagan’s speech. 1978-79 I think. He was in charge of the design of the SS18, SS 19, very successful, and some cruise missiles. And his idea was to build the space shield with space interceptors, not as sophisticated as the American Star Wars, but he tried to sell this to Brezhnev, and I commissioned a look at this. We found all the holes in it and we stopped this activity in 1979.
MS: you had a lot of influence before Gorbachev. I had the idea that somehow you and Gorbachev clicked and that when he went away you didn’t have much influence anymore.
YV: No. I started all this activity in the time of Brezhnev and I continued it under Andropov. I had very good relations with Andropov. Unfortunately, Andropov did not fulfill of those. I was very optimistic in the summer of 83. Unfortunately, there happened this Korean Air Liner which killed this development. After this Andropov disappeared; he was ill a lot. Of course Chernenko was complete bullshit and after this was Gorbachev with new vision and new freedom. But we prepared for this already because our organization was in place and we had all contact and understanding within us. [Between East and West] but if you look at this Star Wars, it started not under Gorbachev but in 83. And in 83 I organized a meeting in the academy to explain our side — what is wrong with this star wars.
MS: You saw it coming, then.
YV: I expected it. I explained it to the American side and they said no, no. this will never happen. Just in 83 at this meeting in Washington. But after one week, the speech of Reagan. After this, you see it was very important to explain here the understanding. Second, it was not very easy to explain the dialectic of this because in Washington in May or June of 83 and Kayser of the Washington Post — you know him?
MS: Carl Kayser?
YV: Yes. We had a discussion and I asked him why he did not publish articles by Russians in the Washington Post. He said, “You write for Pravda. You write in Russian. And if I ask you to give me an article, you give it to me in half a year. “
I said “No, in English tomorrow for the Washington Post.”
All night I worked and my friends from the embassy translated and tomorrow I give it to him. But it took another three months before he had permission to publish it. [We laugh and joke about that]
And with good reason because in this article I try to explain the Star Wars had no hope. Technically it is not real. If it is so, why are we against it? I explained why: because it undermines the ABM treaty and stops the process of nuclear disarmament and limitation, arms control. And this was the main idea between the American scientific community and us. I tried to convince people here in the ministry of foreign affairs, ministry of defence, and central committee, that star wars is nonsense. Ustinov asked me to chair the group in the end of 83 to write the report. This report is unfortunately still classified but we wrote a fair report in which we show the deficiencies of all these things — laser, direct beams. After this I think (Arch Carter??) wrote a report for the office of Science and Technology for congress. And this is a similar report. I have some experience to work on the direct laser weapons because I was involved, not on space weapons but in tactical laser weapons, and we have some result and we have very powerful lasers after we have freedom to discuss this with our American counterparts. We are not on a similar track but we have similar results. And such case we have a direct understanding how it works and how it does not work. But unfortunately, our central committee, and minister of defence and minister of foreign affairs are under the impression that the Americans are so strong and so far ahead that they will build this Star Wars system in any case. And in such case they push on Gorbachev this view. I was not strong enough to counteract it.
Next attempt was two-track. We tried to explain the defence against nuclear weapons. Second we tried to explain that if somebody builds this system it is much cheaper to develop countermeasures. We tried to explain this to our government and Gorbachev caught on. He gave us an asymmetrical answer, I think quite clever. Because really it was no threat. If it were a real threat, the answer is very cheap, yes?
Of course, some people used all this hysteria to write some crazy stuff here. Some people say that Star Wars destroyed the Soviet economy. It’s complete nonsense. It was so cheap here. We don’t spend any money on Star Wars. It was $50 billion in the United States, but $50 billion did not destroy the American economy.
This was very important activity for education. Sagdeev published a book here on space weapons. I think it was an important part of our activity here.
MS: Tell me about 1990 when public opinion was changing and you were in the Supreme Soviet.
YV: I was going to supreme Soviet to try to make the army reform, like we make it today. Unfortunately, at this moment Gorbachev gave control of the Supreme Soviet to Lukyanov and control of his committee on armed forces to Central Committee military department and to Baklanov, who was in control. In such case, my years in the Supreme Soviet was not very fruitful.
MS: Were you part of the inter-regional deputies group?
YV: No, no.
MS: what position did you take with respect to Sakharov and this inter-regional group?
YV: First of all, I worked with Sakharov. I tried to convince the Central Committee to invite him back from Gorky. We succeeded, and after this I organized a special forum here with Jerry Wiesner from the American side, which Gorbachev made speech. It was the first time when Sakharov arrived, and with Wiesner we organized this foundation for survival, and Sakharov was on the board. After this was not easy relations especially between Wiesner and Sakharov.
MS: But what about between YOU and Sakharov?
YV: We did not have any — First of all, in this time we tried to give Sakharov permission to go abroad. We, the board of this foundation, decided to hold a meeting only if a country invited us, and if we have the capacity to go all together. We had two problems: big one, Sakharov, and smaller one, our member from Israel becaue at this time Israel did not have direct relations with the SU, but we solved this with Israel. With Sakharov it was more drmatic because in the beginning, with Medvedev, he was the newly elected member of politburo he told me, we gave Sakharov back all his _____, but did not give him permission to go abroad. I was furious and I met with Gorbachev and told him it was a big mistake. Gorbachev _________ agreed to make a commission from Baklanov, from CC, Ryzhkov from KGB, one man from the military science council, Marchuk was president of the Academy, myself, and Khariton (who was in charge of nuclear weapons). And this commission made a recommendation to Gorbachev to give Sakharov permission to go abroad and at the end of 88, if I’m not wrong, we made a board meeting in Washington, when Sakharov was for the first time in the United States. It opened the way.
I did not join the opposition to Gorbachev because I tried to work with him. Of course, in the last years, to work with Gorbachev was not easy because he turned to the right and for me it was a big frustration. It spoiled our relations, but in any case this is my philosophy. You see, I am involved in many projects that are important for the country. Not only arms control, but the project of fusion reactor, of science development and such things. I survived 5 secretary generals, 1 president, seven american presidents, and governments. All this project is much longer than these political situations, yes?
MS: Were you disappointed when the SU came to an end and he was replaced by Yelstin? What was your relationhsip with Yeltsin”
YV: First of all, it was quite friendly. In the Central Committee I may have been one of the few who never stopped having friendly relations with him. I was not his big supporter politically, but the relations are good. He wrote his book before he visited the US. Just near my home in the country, and we had some number of meetings.
MS: He consulted you when writing his book
YV: No. We would pass and have a little drink, but it was a very difficult time for him. After he was elected president of the Russian federation I started to look at what happened, and it was before the end. It was November of 1991, and there was some plan to destroy completely the Soviet Academy of Science. It was a big mistake, I think. Unfortunately, the president of the Soviet Academy had very bad relations with Yeltsin and Gorbachev tried to influence him to keep this Academy of Science in the SU, but of course this academy belonged to Russia, because all republics had their own academies, independent of the SU. This big academy was really Russian academy. I called Yeltsin and explained all this. He said, Okay, I agree to accept the Soviet Academy as the Russian Academy of Science. It was not easy for him because there were people who already had started to build an independent Russian academy, and as they succeeded, we lost Soviet Academy like we lost many other academies. Of course, if it is ministries and bureaucracies it’s not so important, but the academy had 300 years of history and to lost the academy would be catastrophic for Russian science. Another possibility was this institute. At this moment it was not a big problem with the ministry of atomic energy, there were many contradictions. We especially had problems with stop development of atomic energy, stop science, and stop military funding. And I asked Yeltsin to help us make a special status for the Kurchatov Institute, independent of any ministry. He agreed with this but the time was very critical. We had an agreement and I brought all these three decrees on November 21, to the airport when he was flying to Germany. I took it from Burbulis, and he signed these decrees at the airport and these saved the Kurchatov Institute. So I think we have a good undertanding. I went with him to Camp David with Bush. We started this idea of the International Science Technology Agency at Camp David. And we started the joint action on the global protecction system. Unfortunately, nothing happens because the American military establishment looks very narrowly. They only try to work with the ABM Treaty. We lost this time with Bush and after the Clinton Administration appears I have big expectations but nothing happens. Unfortunately we today start from scratch. I was witness of Yeltsin’s great speech in the Congress when all of congress applauded him. And in Camp David we have this opportunity to make joint activity on the space station. In the beginning of the Yeltsin administration there were some important items. One was the idea of the new government to completely destroy the atomic energy agency. From my point, it is very dangerous, for what to do with all these warheads? Make the stewardship of the warheads…. The idea was privatization.
MS: (Laugh with surprise) That’s carrying capitalism too far.
YV: My worry was the environment problem because who will pay for it? There is no private money to pay for the environment. There is huge damage to the country from the time of making nuclear weapons. We organized the special meeting with Yeltsin of scientists and government people, and Yeltsin made the decision to organize the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy, which exists up to now. He chose Mikhailov for this ministry. Next very important step in which I was involved was to organize the Russian space agency. I helped ____ to make this meeting with Yeltsin. So this was three big projects with him. After this I proposed to him another big project on using our arctic oil and gas to support the conversion of our nuclear submarine industry to producing platforms. He supported it and up to now I think it is the only one success story of big-scale conversion.
So I have not lost anything. I still continue to work with Yeltsin. After this it started to be much more difficult because the people around him built a network that make it harder to reach him but sometimes I reach him. Today I am working with the Chernomyrdin government in these fields. And Yeltsin put me on the Defence Council one year ago. We discuss many scientific problems. I do not feel any isolation. I feel very good. I don’t agree with all the policies of the new people i government because sometimes they are a little amateurish — a little too Bolshevik — all this liberalization! You see, I am looking for something more careful. But in general of course I agree with this new wave for Russia — the building of democratic institutions, party system. I never believed in communism and bolshevism. I am much more comfortable today. Especially when I discussed with Gorbachev the problem of private property. It was very difficult to educate him.
MS: Are you still on good terms with him?
YV: No, I think we lost contact in the last two years of his presidency. I already told you I went into the Supreme Soviet and a special commission because I wanted to be involved in the reform of the army. But he gave full control to different people, he want to the right. He named the president of the Academy of Science, Marchuk and these were not happy days for me.
MS: You didn’t get on with Marchuk?
YV: Not well. I never was his official assistant, I had no official position in the Gorbachev time and the last two years were difficult. I am not a big fan of socialism, of a planned economy.
MS: You think he was attempting to defend that?
YV: Yes. It was very difficult for him. I never knew what was really in his mind, but his ______ was very difficult to follow.
MS: What about your relation with Sakharov toward the end? It seems to me that Sakharov was very (even after he died) influential in encouraging people to form an opposition toward Gorbachev and that it made it difficult for Gorbachev to continue his policies because the democrats were disappointed with him and left.
YV: First of all, I was disappointed too. But not in such a way as the democrats and not to support this radical opposition. I tried to work inside the system, and so I was not very close to Sakharov because after he returned we worked on this foundation for Survival, but it was not very easy to work with him, especially Ms. Bonner. I think he was looking for his own ground, not cooperation, and after this political development we had not so much in common because I tried to work him into the discussion of fusion and all these things but he was completely involved in these political things.
MS: I personally think that what he did in the last year or less of his life was not constructive.
YV: It is difficult to judge such people. He was a very noble man, and he tried his best from his understanding. The problem was, he was quite sensitive to some influence. His wife and some special —- because of the special isolation (which was terrible for him because he was under the full control of the KGB) and I think he developed too much trust to the Western side, and not the best people there. Of course, he had very good friends, but unfortunately, sometimes he had very strange relations with the best of his supporters. Jeremy Stone. He worked very hard to help him. But once I remember Sakharov saying he did not wish to invite Jeremy Stone with us to a meeting because he said Jeremy is on the left side. Same thing happened with McTaggert, president of Greenpeace. He is good man. But most frustrating for me was his relation with Jeremy Wiesner because Jeremy in some ways built Sakharov’s reputation in the United States. Jeremy worked very hard to make all these things and it was his initiative to invite Sakharov to be a board member of our foundation and afterward when Sakharov arrived he said he doesn’t trust foundations, because it’s another bureaucracy. I don’t like this. And he was very negative to Jeremy, who is an excellent man. In some ways I think the result was his stroke.
MS: Even before, he didn’t recognize his scientific colleagues who might have been on the same side as himself. He said negative things about Artsimovish a long time ago when Artsimovich had done things to indicate his support.
YV: Really, I don’t know this.
MS: I think perhaps he just hadn’t had enough opportunity to see how the rest of the world functioned and he was badly inflluenced by that isolation.
YV: Oh yes, of course. There’s no question. And unfortunately I think his channel to the West (it was natural because he hadn’t been to the West) he was under the influence of some strange groups. I don’t wish to make some big offense, but I am not very favorable to all those groups on the side of the Bonner family. They have their own interests and they used him. And all his information was from the rights side in America. The democrats, the American left side, they supported him, they built him, but really he much more trusted the right side. He looked with great promise on meeting Edward Teller, but after the first meeting he was very frustrated.
MS: They are two of a kind in some ways. Both crotchety people who are very authoritarian.
MS: Tell me about your future — the ways in which you can continue to make a difference
I am trying to build international support to support the hi-tech business environment. I am working to teach young people, and on such as the big project of conversion. It is up to us to build jobs here. Ten years ago with my wife I started two things for children. One is Junior Achievement for Russia. I am co-chair of Junior Achievement and in Five years we haved educated more than half a million Russian children. We have good board of 29 American companies. The chair is __, vice president of EXXON. I am looking to develop this for millions of children after school, like in America. Junior Achievement is supported by the business community. So far we do not succeed with Russian businesses. Second is the self-organizing children’s activity. Our education here is more like the German tradition. We have small experience of outside of school education. I prefer the American system, which is very weak in school and strong outside of school.
Another project is the Young Leadership. we work with the California Association of School Counselors (???), an organization that is 50 years old. The provide not only training but also organization. It is like our Komsomol but no party influences, no ideology. Jut development for development of own skill, self-expression, teamwork. We have about 8000. …
But sometimes I go in the problem, like what to do with plutonium, we make this report with my old friend John Holdren, and I am still busy with this big project, the International Fusion Reactor. I am chairman. It is a joint project with US, Japan, Europe, and Russia.
MS: You aren’t close are you?
YV: Next year we finish the design.
MS: How long until you have real fusion?
YV: Real fusion already exists. The ______ in Europe, last month they received 13 megawatts of fusion power. That maybe not very interesting to people today. But we have already finished an important part of our job, which was very costly, like 20 billion $ mankind spent to demonstrate fusion scientifically. Today we have to demonstrate technology, and this is the goal of the International Fusion Reactor. It is complicated political engineering.
MS: I am encouraged talking with you. I had a sense that there was discontinuity in the military policy and in the ability of people such as yourself to influence government when Yeltsin came into office.
YV: No, that’s not true. Maybe it’s a discontinuity for some people who were very close to Gorbachev, like shakhnazarov or Arbatov, who were influential then. But if you look at Yakovlev, he is still influential. Not directly, but I think he is quite influential generally in public opinion.
MS: And military reform did not stop?
YV: I think the previous defence minister was not very active. You know there was a very dramatic removal of him. But I think the government and the president are very strong in the direction and I like this because it is realistic. Of course, it’s a big change to reform the army. I think it looks today we have a chance to get really moving in this direction. For ten years we were only speaking of it.
MS: I think I got everything I wanted from you.
(part one of two).
Apple and smartphone-friendly audio link: here